Rodney Porterfield, the mastermind behind Mr. P Studios on Youtube, has been teaching elementary art in central Alabama since 2006. His instructional videos are a hit with thousands of subscribers, and he even sponsors Art Camps during the summer. Last year, he was honored by his colleagues with the Teacher of the Year award!

His videos are both wise and silly, full of songs and funny voices, and his joy is contagious! We are delighted this week to have the opportunity to interview Mr. P himself! Rodney shares some classroom management tips as well as his process for producing his videos...

Rodney, will you tell us a little bit about where you teach, the population, and what strategies have helped you the most in dealing with challenges?

     One of the things that I’ve learned during my years is that this age group, K-2, are very eager to tell you details from their lives; wanting to share everything from their family history to what they ate for dinner that night! It is very endearing, but with 43 classes of 20-25 students, that I see for only 30 min. a week, it’s hard to hear them all and have time to teach the art lesson for the day! In the beginning I wouldn’t place too much importance on their stories, favoring teaching over what they had to say. Over the years, however, I have found that it’s those stories that allow you to connect with the students in a more personal way. I actually began telling stories of my own. As they began to connect with me, it wasn’t long before I could get them to do anything I asked! They would attempt tasks they found challenging, I could manage my class more efficiently and correct behaviors with very little push back. In fact, I found that I didn’t even see many of the misbehaviors that my colleagues were experiencing. I call this “Connecting before Correcting." Connect with your students, earn their respect, then speak into their lives.

What is the most challenging thing about being an elementary art teacher?

     Just the sheer volume of it all! Sometimes I envy secondary art teachers simply because they don’t teach every student in the school...it takes a full week for me to see them all. And I have seen it worse... taking twice as long for some of my colleagues. Planning and delivering lessons, however, became much better when I decided to leverage technology and social media. 

     Recording art instruction and uploading to the web for students to view at their leisure was the best professional move I could have made. But to be honest, I kinda fell into it. It started when my wife was pregnant with our first child about 5-6 years ago. I wanted to be off with her for the first few weeks after the delivery...I knew it would be an adjustment--understatement of the year--and I didn’t want her to be alone during that transition. So began the arduous task of planning several weeks of lessons for my long-term sub. 3-4 typed pages later, and still being on the first lesson, I realized leaving written lesson plans wasn’t going to workout...at least, not on their own. My new Flip Mino-like camera had just arrived (yeah, I was planning on being one of ‘those’ parents) and while I was becoming familiar with it, the idea came to me...record each lesson for my sub to play in my absence. 

the Porterfield family

     Before leaving on paternity leave I gave it a try; I recorded a lesson, played it at the beginning of each class, and afterwards stepped back and facilitated the lesson... letting the video do the teaching. After a little trial and error, I found a ‘formula’ that worked well, and felt comfortable leaving to attend to my new family. Fast forwarding a bit, I still found it to be the best method for delivering lessons.
     Even upon my return, I continued to record art lesson content for my students to enjoy. It wasn’t until I started running out of storage that I began to think about Youtube. After shooting and editing several hours of video, it would’ve been a shame to just get rid of them all just to make more room! So I started the channel as a way to store content that I can recall later when I decide to teach the lesson again. I later decided to publish a few, out of curiosity really, wondering what type of response I would get. 

     Fast forward to today, I have received very positive comments from the content I have published...the best of which come from schools without art teachers and from the homeschool crowd. I have become a resource for their artistic instruction and that, to me, is huge! I feel blessed to be able to share what I do and that people are finding it useful. 

     Logistics? Once I decide on a lesson and gather all the materials together, there’s a point where I, and I imagine all my fellow art teachers do the same, make a few examples. Keeping in mind the skill/ability level of my students, I find the best way to approach the task so that most students end up with a successful piece. It’s here that I start making mental notes for what I’m going to put on video. I start shooting after that. 

     I set up my Sony Webbie HD on a tripod in front of me and my hands work around the three legs of the tripod--yes, I know it’s an ancient camera now, but 5 years ago, it was a great option. If I were to select a camera from today’s tech, I would choose one from the GoPro line of cameras. The quality level of video these cameras produce for the value is astounding and they use the, now standard, SD memory cards instead of the memory stick duo; Sony’s proprietary removable storage media. I usually end up with about 15-20 minutes of raw footage, which I then edit down to about a 5-7 minute video for the classroom. For my age group, that’s the sweet spot; any longer and I’ll lose their attention, any shorter and I don’t have a thorough enough explanation of the lesson. 

     The next step happens on an iPad. I use Apple’s Camera Connection Kit to transfer the raw footage over for editing. There are tons of options for editing video out there. I’m sure any one of them would be a good choice. If you have experience with a video editing program that, of course, would be a great place to start. If not iMovie, in the Apple ecosystem is a great option. Drop-dead simple to get started, and has more than enough bells and whistles to get the job done. If given an opportunity, I wouldn’t change this part of my setup other than to get a more capable iPad...maybe the iPad Pro 9.7. Currently, I’m still rockin an iPad 2...I know...smh!!! 

     Once I have the instructional final cut, I play it at the beginning of each class, directly from the iPad, via my promethean board. For this you’ll need an adaptor. For me, and anyone else having an older iPad it’s called a 30-pin to VGA Adaptor. It allows the connection between your iPad and promethean, or any other projector for that matter, to be made possible. Apple changed their 30-pin dock to something called a Lightning Connector. So anyone with an updated iPad will need a--you guessed it--Lightning to VGA Adaptor. They’re really cool because they allow you to charge your iPad while still being connected to your projection display device of choice. 

     After the students watch the video, I do a little questioning for understanding; 1 minute at the most, just to make certain they know what’s about to happen with the supplies/materials. Then the activity begins. This is also where I take a moment to evaluate the video. If my students and I are not on the same page, or I notice something happening during the hands-on part of class that isn’t addressed in the video, I’ll make a mental note of it to add to the video that evening. With my setup, it’s a simple process to record the new footage and edit it in. Now, while they are engaged in the lesson, I pull my webbie out of my shirt pocket and record footage of their busy little hands. This is, by far, one of my favorite parts of the process. 

     Watching me on video is one thing...and I try extra hard to be entertaining, but the kids busy having fun while learning is a whole other level of entertainment. Many teachers have commented on how their students love to see their peers’ interpretation of the lessons. So, just as easily as before, I add that student footage to the end of the instructional final cut to make my Gold Master that I then upload to Youtube. All and all, the process takes several weeks to finish, mainly due to the fact that it takes that long to finish any one lesson! If I had all the footage, the time invested in actually editing from raw footage to GoldMaster can be done in about an hour. Which speaks to another point I’d like to make. Everything from start to finish is simple, portable, and time efficient...three things that I require or I wouldn’t be able to get it all done on my own. When you think about it, my entire studio fits in a day bag. I can shoot HD quality video on the fly and edit while watching my (now) 2 kids play at the park. Whatever your setup, it has to fit your life or you won’t keep doing it.

What advice do you have for a new art teacher just starting out?

     Use what’s out there. There are tons of really good content already uploaded and available for you to use from a variety of sources, take advantage of it. But let’s say you want to create your own content...here’s a couple of things that would help: 

     Create a brand identity. It gives people a way to identify you from everyone else. This can be as simple as having a catchy name and a really cool format for your videos to follow. They call me Mr. P at school, so I went with MrPstudios; simple and to the point. Also, my format is easy and allows me to stand out a bit as well. When shooting video, my perspective is as though I’m speaking directly to the students...explaining it all to them in a way they can best digest it...which, of course, speaks to the origins of these videos in the first place. 
     I feel that most tutorials (which is technically what I’m producing) are addressing adults, with the assumption that they will then take the lesson to their classroom and teach it themselves. Which is great, but what I do can help those who aren’t comfortable with teaching art. I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve received from teachers who have no art education and know nothing about teaching artistic principles and elements of art, whose students are now receiving art education. It lets those teachers step back and be facilitators, a much more comfortable role to play. 

     Lastly, make sure people can find your videos i.e., use searchable keywords when you title your videos. As educators, we all title our lesson plans when we save them to our computer, jump drive or favorite cloud storage option. And in the beginning, I used those, sometimes obscure, titles on my youtube channel as well. For about a year, I was wondering why most of my videos never made it past 100 views. Then there was one that hit 10,000 views seemingly overnight...then another that passed 3000...and so on. After a close study of my most popular videos, I realized that they were titled something that people would actually type into the search bar...Pointillism, Color Wheel, Self-Portraits are all still my most popular videos to date. I didn’t ditch my whole naming system, after all the video lessons corresponded with the written lesson plans and I needed to keep that continuity. Instead I added, “Art Lessons For Kids” to each of the Youtube titles and that’s when www.youtube.com/MrPstudios started to gain a bit of traction. It’s still not where I’d like for it to be, but I am seeing a sustained growth year over year and that’s a good thing.

Where do you see yourself going from here?

     I plan to continue to grow the channel. I feel that I have a devoted viewer base that I can’t disappoint and a whole other set of students out there that I have yet to meet who are always looking forward to the next silly bit of antics that I (or my wife, a drama teacher) can dream up for them to enjoy. I’m also juggling a couple of ideas that would diversify my portfolio of videos a bit, in an attempt to add content more regularly, especially during the summer months.

Mr. P, thank you for sharing your expertise with us! The joy you share with your students and with all of us is very much appreciated. Being an art teacher is the best job ever! 

"Go, and haaave fun!" Mr. P


Charles and Sandra Moore said...

Mr P
Can you remind me of something. What is that crayola game you showed us in your class? I am at my grandmothers house and I want to play it.

Thank you
Brenden McCain

MrPstudios said...

Hey Brenden!!! I believe you're talking about Crayon Physics!!! You can download a free demo of the game at www.crayonphysics.com
Have fun!!! Mr. P